March 2019
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TD Magazine

Don’t Make Things Difficult

Friday, March 1, 2019

Simplify Work: Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity, and Engagement


By Jesse W. Newton
Morgan James Publishing, 154 pp., $16.95

Every day, talent development professionals look for ways to attract and retain the best people for the most integral roles in their respective organizations. Part of this effort involves boosting the future outlook of their company. This outlook is dependent on strategy, policy, process, and perspective. In Simplify Work, Newton explores company policies related to the attributes and processes of organizations "that [treat] people as cogs in a machine."

In five chapters, Newton lays the foundation for making work life simple. He offers historical perspectives from the Industrial Revolution to the bureaucracy of modern-day work to highlight how creativity is stifled, which lowers morale and leads to diminished output and involvement from talented workers. He proposes that optimizing the individual, clearing the clutter of processes, and integrating useful system support can serve the cause of simplicity.


This text poses a question we've all found ourselves pondering at one point in our careers: "What if we could take a fresh look at our businesses, reconsider what is really important, and start to focus our time and energy on those things that matter?" Those asking believe that the changes needed to achieve such goals are implausible. Newton suggests the exact opposite—that such an endeavor is possible, starting with both the individual and the organization, and he offers perspectives on methods known to unravel the "spaghetti" of complexity to simplify work.

What makes this book exciting is Newton's ability to outline problems at work that we've all experienced and present solutions that we secretly—or not so secretly—want to implement. He relies on his own experiences to communicate how a new workplace culture and personal habits can be shaped to meet the needs of innovation, productivity, and engagement. He poses questions we dare not ask outside of Friday happy hour venting. Readers may find themselves nodding in agreement at several points he raises. However, there is room for critique; one could argue that Newton doesn't account for possible pitfalls of experimentation to implement the right solution.

The author concludes with an invitation to simplify work. Assess and determine what's blocking you and your organization from achieving your best work. Take a hard look at the problem and be willing to adopt new, strategic solutions. This is a message worth reading to better understand that, while complexity is not all bad, complexity that makes things hard to get done with no return on investment is the costliest mistake an organization—and an individual—can make.

About the Author

Laura Lubin is the assistant director of faculty support at American University in Washington, DC. She is the administrator for faculty development and support in the area of online teaching and learning at the Kogod School of Business' Graduate Online Programs Department. She is also an adjunct faculty member for Kogod's Department of Marketing. Her past roles as an instructional designer, educational technologist, and adjunct faculty member have taken place at Broward College, Florida International University, Florida Atlantic University, and Learning Systems International (METCOR/LSI).

In pursuit of an EdD in adult education and human resources development at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, Laura’s educational profile includes an AA in sociology from Florida State University, a BA in sociology and anthropology, an MS in human resources development, and a graduate certificate in human resources policy and management from Florida International University. She is a Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with research interests that include instructional systems design, instructional designer-faculty dyads, faculty/human resources/talent development, online program governance, and the future of higher education.

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